Test system: Jack v1.1 on Sharp Zaurus SL-5600
Jack the Uni-Psychle is the first release from Discord Studios. It is a sideways scrolling platform game in the style of such classics as Sonic the Hedgehog and the Mario series, with cool music and rapid game play.
For what it’s worth, the story goes something like this: You are Jack, you have some special psychic powers, kind of like that Akira kid in that movie. You are forced to be a test subject for the evil Dr Apocalypse, who removes your body and grafts your brain onto a unicycle with a few tattered nerves allowing you to control the cycle. Then one day he’s donewith you and dumps you in a carnival freak show. You find that your psychic powers are somehow enhanced by the slapstick circus side show environment!
You promptly escape from the maximum security stockade and survive in the Los Angeles underground as a soldier of fortune. Oh no, wait, that was TheA-Team. Well, OK, you do escape from the circus and the point of the game is to fight dozens of enemies across a multi-environment map and reach freedom.
Installation and Setup
Installing on the Zaurus requires that you install three packages – two small ones which appear to provide sound support, and a big one which is the game. The total installed footprint is approximately 4MB. When I followed the instructions the game installed without incident.
The four menu screens are Main, Options, Load/Continue and the in-game options screen which comes up when you press Cancel. You can pause the game at any time but it does not survive a task swap (which would be difficult anyway because the Home button is mapped to Pause).
The options screen allows you to slide the volume of music and sound effects, or to enter cheat codes. Notable omissions are a screen gammaslider and a difficulty setting.
Once you’re ready to play you can select a saved game slot or start a newgame. This screen is annoying in that the cursor pad allows up and down selection of saved game slots, but then to actually continue the game you must press Cancel. Pressing OK starts a new game and this was a major source of confusion to me. Even after reading the instructions it was so unnatural that I continued to get it wrong and for about the first dozen games thought the save game feature was broken as I always started back at the beginning. I can understand the design choice; the Cancel button is located on the Zaurus in roughly the same place as the Continue icon on the screen, but given the nice cursor pad I think a more consistent up/down/left/right and select combination could have been used across all menus and been easier.
The in-game controls are Left, Right for movement, Jump (using the OK button) and Psychic Attack, using the Mail button.
Enemies can all be killed by either jumping on or shooting them. Usually killing an enemy yields a golden wheel which can be collected. 100 wheels gets you a free life, and this ratio is about right.
The game graphics are really nicely drawn and all 16-bit. Jack and his wheel are well animated and the enemies are colourful and varied with plenty of animation frames. The backgrounds consist of high quality sprites which repeat about once a screen as you scroll left and right.Some of them work better than others but they’re all good. In the foreground, platform graphics vary and are matched to the levels. In a few cases it was hard to see the platforms against the backgrounds. Some of the levels have really varied and bright colours, others less so. In a fewcases I found it hard to see the green monster sitting on the green platform againt the green background so I could shoot him with my greenweapon… You get the idea. Some of the colour schemes could use a complete makeover, others are OK.
Initially the game was difficult. and drove me crazy. I would zoom along at top speed, laying down covering fire with my psychic attack, only to fall down a hole because I couldn’t stop in time. Then, after some playing, I got used to the timing and really enjoyed the rock/paper/scissors aspect where you run into a dozen different types of enemy in a short distance, and have to quickly identify which ones need to be jumped on and which need to be shot.
Early levels just require that you complete them right-to-left, then every 6 levels is a boss (Dr Apocalypse) who requires some special tactics,different each time. Some early levels and most of the later ones have a time limit of a minute or two.
An intermediate boss. As you can see I am trying to run away.
The in-game music is great and fits in with each level; the cityscape soundtrack is particularly good. Sound can be slightly choppy at times but is generally smooth.
Collision detection is adequate; as with any game like this though, you need to learn what you can get away with. In the case of Jack you can’t get away with much. Jumping on an enemy’s head kills it, but jumping on its ear kills you. Once you get used to it though, it is consistent and not buggy.
A few slightly rough edges do not detract from a very enjoyable game. The action is fast and furious with good music and sound effects.
- No difficulty setting
- Only Matrix fans will really love the green-on-green-on-green levels
- Some other gloomy graphics – it really needs a gamma option
- Interface could be more intuitive
- Simple concept, well executed
- Easy to learn
- Cool music and sound
- Nice backgrounds
- No bugs or crashes during tests
- Much easier than riding a real unicycle
Jack is available for $14.95 from Handango [product link].